Monday, February 16, 2009


In order to be an OK teacher, one must be a spectacular liar. I'm not sure if I'm an OK teacher yet, but I'm definitely getting better in the lying department.

After school the other day, one of my twelfth graders stopped by the office. "Can I ask you for a big favor?" she asked.

"You can ask," I said.

"Could you write me a letter of recommendation?" she asked. She then revealed that she needed it right away, that the application deadline to this university was just a few short days away, and that she'd have to scan in my letter and email it. The letter, actually, was to be less of a recommendation and more of a statement that the student could read and write English.

"I suppose I can write it," I said, "but first let's see how good your English really is. Why don't you first tell Mr. P what I picked up off your neighbor's desk yesterday." There are three Mr. P's in the English department here, myself included, but I was talking about our head of department.

"Well, you picked up our math homework," she said.

"Really? And what was happening with your homework?" Mr. P asked. I had filled him in on the story earlier.

"She was checking her answers," the girl said.

"Just checking?" I asked.

"Well, she didn't know some of the answers."

"So," Mr. P said. "In other words, you were cheating. A day after the principal said that cheating of any kind, even copying homework, wouldn't be tolerated. What kind of offense did he say it was?" 

"But she didn't get a chance to cheat because the papers were taken away," she said.

"Ah-ha," Mr. P said. "I guess we can't throw you in jail for intending to kill someone. So you should thank him for preventing you from cheating," he said, pointing at me.

"Thank you," she said.

"But still, what did the principal say would be the consequences for any type of cheating?" I asked.

She stared at us, stunned. "He said it would be a level 3 offense. Suspension," she said.

"That's right," Mr. P said. "So why don't you go home and pack your bags. Call your parents, and tell them you'll be spending some time with them in Bhutan."

"Yeah," I said. "I'll send the letter of recommendation there."

Mr. P continued: "And make sure you write a letter to all the universities you're applying to, and tell them about this incident, but assure them that you're a better person because of it, that it will in no way hurt your academic potential."

Most students, especially by the time they're in the twelfth grade, know that the three Mr. P's are quite sarcastic, so she didn't quite know what to believe.

"Are you really going to report me?" she asked me.

"I just did," I said. "I told my head of department." 

She looked at him. "Oh, you're fine," he said.

"This will never happen again," she said.

"I believe you," I said. See what I mean about being a liar?

She left, and I went home to write the letter. In it, I assured the university that this student had excellent English skills. Good enough to get out of suspension, I should have said.

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